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Closing the Gender Gap in the Tech Industry May be Simpler—And More Complex—Than You Think

If you hold a job in the tech industry, gender bias seems like a way of life. But it hasn’t always been that way. While the fields of computer science and technology have always been weighted more heavily towards males, it wasn’t until the mid-1980’s that the number of computer science degrees completed by females took a nosedive, dropping from 37% in 1985 to just 18% in 2012.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just the disparate number of graduates in tech fields that forms the basis of the problem. Of the women who secure jobs in technology based on impressive credentials and skillsets, an astounding 56% leave their jobs before reaching senior management positions, after 10 to 20 years in their careers. Compared to just 17% of men who leave at the 10-year mark, this statistic reveals the severity of the long-acknowledged gender gap in tech fields.

Why Are Women Leaving?

The exodus of women from tech jobs can be attributed to several factors. These include:

  • Family Reasons—Twenty percent of women who leave the workforce do so on a temporary basis, usually to stay home with children.
  • Choice to Consult Independently—Almost a quarter of the women who leave their tech jobs (22%) choose to work independently as consultants in their fields.
  • Work Environment—In some companies, women still encounter work environments that aren’t female-friendly, opposition from male-co-workers, and intrinsic bias toward male traits, all of which contribute to the mass exodus of women from tech jobs. Many women report that even when companies offer diversity training or implement diversity hiring initiatives, an overall negative attitude toward women remains.

The flexibility offered by independent consulting attracts women who want to spend more time with their families. Because childcare responsibilities often fall to women, leaving the workforce to stay home or work independently offers a solution to the problems of work-life balance and expensive childcare.

For some women, however, leaving a job in the tech industry is not the choice they want to make. Some feel pushed out of their jobs by a bias toward males. Managers may not even recognize the bias, but may tend to view a trait like aggressive self-promotion as positive in a male worker and negative in a female worker. If the company requires employees to nominate themselves for promotion (as Google does), gender personality trait bias can weigh the odds of advancement more heavily in favor of male workers.

Why Closing the Gender Gap is Both Simple and Complex

Successfully solving the gender problem in tech workplaces will require a systemic shift in the way companies and employees approach diversity. Despite the concerted efforts of many in the industry to create work cultures in which women will thrive, women often find it almost impossible to break into the close-knit circle of “brogrammers” who dominate the market. Even at some of the largest tech companies, female technical and engineering employees remain vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts. While these companies have made an effort to improve diversity, females still comprise surprisingly low percentages of the workforce at four of the top tech giants:

  • Google: 17% of the engineering workforce
  • Pinterest: 21% of the technical team
  • Facebook: 15% of technical workforce
  • Apple: 20% of global engineering workforce

The solution is readily apparent: both company culture and employee mentality must change to become more accommodating of women. But it will take more than a training seminar on gender diversity and equality. Businesses will need to identify the policies and biases that create inequality in the workplace and implement new approaches to interrupt those negative stereotypes. Some of the needed steps include:

  • Utilize a dedicated diversity recruiter—Someone on the hiring team—whether in-house or outsourced—needs to focus on developing a pipeline for female talent and plugging the holes that cause women to leave their jobs. Goals should include diversity at every level of management and gender-neutral screening and interview processes.
  • Intensify diversity training efforts—A diversity seminar isn’t enough to shift thinking. Companies should also institute measures such as establishing a promotion committee that seeks to eliminate gender bias in promotion opportunities; creating a leadership seminar or conference for women; and assigning an in-house team to identify areas of potential bias as well as appropriate solutions.
  • Consider adjustments to family leave policies—Some companies have started to shift family leave policies to offer parental leave for both fathers and mothers. A Swedish study found that for every month of paternity leave taken by a child’s father, mothers experienced a 7% boost in future earnings. Offering paternity leave not only gives fathers the opportunity to become more involved in the lives of their children, but also supports women as they seek to create a work-life balance that will allow them to remain on track in their careers.

But the solution is also complex. Gender bias extends further than the company culture. It begins in childhood, continues through the educational system and into college, and flows into the culture at large, where women still experience negative stereotypes rather than being valued for their credentials and skill sets. At the end of the day, companies can lead by example as they create inclusive workplace cultures that value all employees equally, but it will take a broader vision on the part of all citizens to truly close the gender gap.New call-to-action